Solar panel technology is rapidly advancing every year, and new developments like flexible solar panels are constantly being released and improved upon. Read on to learn what a “flex solar panel” is, as well as how they compare to typical photovoltaic cells.
What are flexible solar panels?
A standard monocrystalline or polycrystalline solar panel is made up of silicon wafers. They are typically up to 200 micrometers thick, which is slightly thicker than a human hair. In order to make a “flexible” solar panel, those silicon wafers must be sliced down to just a few micrometers wide. Using these ultra-thin silicon wafers gives solar panels many unique properties, including flexibility for some models.
Flexible solar panels made of ultra-thin silicon cells have been around for a while. More recently, research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has given way to advances in organic solar cells. Instead of using silicon as the basis for solar cells, researchers have found a way to use organic materials with electrodes of graphene. Until now, a limiting factor on panel flexibility has been the brittleness of typical electrodes, but due to graphene’s transparent and flexible nature, this method may lead to thinner, more flexible, and more stable solar panels in the future than what we can currently make.
Thin film panels: a flexible panel option
The current flexible solar panels available to homeowners on the market fall under the category of “thin film panels.” A thin film solar panel is made with layers that are over 300 times smaller than standard silicon solar panels, which gives them a much thinner profile and can even make some thin film panels flexible. Thin film panels are lightweight and durable, and can be an intriguing option depending on a solar project’s needs. (Read more about MiaSolé, a flexible thin film solar panel manufacturer, in EnergySage’s company overview.)
Pros and cons of flexible solar panels
The biggest advantage of flexible panels is their ability to fit many types of solar projects. For example, if your roof can’t bear the heavy load of traditional solar panels due to structural concerns, lightweight flexible panels like thin film may be a great solution that won’t compromise your home’s structural integrity. Because flexible panels can be shaped to fit the surface they are installed on, they can be easily installed on less conventional structures like carports.
Financially, flexible solar panels will likely reduce the installation cost of your solar array. Flexible/thin film panels require less labor to install, and they are much more portable and easy to handle than typical panels, which can be bulky and heavy and require heavy-duty roof mounting systems.
The most common obstacle for thin film or flexible solar panels is their lower efficiency than classic panels. Today, the efficiency ratings for average monocrystalline or polycrystalline panels hovers between 15 and 20 percent. Thin film solar panels, on the other hand, typically offer an efficiency of between 11 and 13 percent. This lowered efficiency means that you will need more solar panels to produce the same amount of energy, which can be a barrier to some solar projects with limited roof space for installation.
Additionally, flexible solar panels aren’t a good fit for many home rooftop solar projects, because there may not be enough roof space to produce your desired amount of energy. Due to their durability and portability, flexible solar panels are best for small solar projects on surfaces such as RVs or boats, where they may experience physical wear and tear that would not occur on a stationary roof. Their durability combined with the reduced weight of flexible panels make them ideal for these smaller, mobile solar projects that don’t need large amounts of energy.
When are flexible solar panels useful?
Perhaps the best application for flexible solar panels is in situations where you might need a portable solar solution. Products like the Winnewsun Flexible Solar Panel are one way to generate solar power on the go, potentially on the roof of an RV. Similar to flexible panels are foldable solar panels like the SUAOKI Solar Charger. Like flexible panels for your RV, folding solar panels are a great option for camping and hiking trips if you need lightweight and portable power.
All things considered, a flexible solar panel setup is usually best for on-the-go solar power instead of as a permanent home solar solution. When you’re out on the trail, camping, or driving long distances, having a durable, lightweight, and flexible solar panel setup can be a great way to generate free electricity from the sun.
Finding the right solar panel setup for your home is easy
Whether you are interested in thin-film solar panels or more traditional monocrystalline and polycrystalline modules, it is important to compare solar quotes from many installers to select the best one for your property. On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can solicit quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers and compare them side by side. Our installers offer many types of solar installation, and can work with you to customize a perfect home solar solution to meet your energy needs while tailoring their installation for your unique home. If you are interested in a certain type or manufacturer of solar panels, simply leave a note on your property profile for installers to see.